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Capitol riots: Veterans charged with conspiring to obstruct Congress

Three military veterans charged in the Capitol riots started a recruitment drive for potential violence within days of the 2020 election and later held training camps before descending on DC in a bus filled with heavily armed comrades on January 6, authorities say.

The new allegations, outlined in a federal indictment Wednesday, have been made against Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50, of Ohio, and 66-year-old Thomas Caldwell of Virginia, according to the Washington Post.

The trio, who are all US military veterans and affiliated with the extremist Oath Keepers group, are accused of conspiring to obstruct Congress and other counts, punishable up to 20 years in prison.

According to the indictment, Watkins is said to have begun tapping up potential recruits six days after the election for a training camp in Columbus, Ohio, to make people ‘fighting fit’ for Inauguration Day, telling them to prepare to ‘kill and die for our rights’.

Crowl, a former Marine mechanic, allegedly attended a different training camp in North Carolina, in December, prosecutors said.

And Caldwell, a retired Navy officer, meanwhile, is accused of pre-plotting and coordinating the movements of a group of 40 rioters from afar as they stormed the Capitol seeking to disrupt Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote.

Around 140 other members of the January 6 mob been arrested so far and more than 400 additional suspects have been identified.

Five people were killed during the insurrection, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher. Two other officers who responded to the siege, Jeffrey Smith and Howard Liebengood, have also since committed suicide.

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Donovan Ray Crowl

The new allegations, outlined in a federal indictment Wednesday, have been made against Jessica Marie Watkins (left), 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl (right), 50, of Ohio, and 66-year-old Thomas Caldwell (not pictured) of Virginia

According to the indictment, Watkins is said to have begun tapping up potential recruits six days after the election for a training camp in Columbus, Ohio.  Crowl, a former Marine mechanic, allegedly attended a different training camp in North Carolina, in December (Pictured: Watkins and Crowl inside the Capitol on Jan. 6)

According to the indictment, Watkins is said to have begun tapping up potential recruits six days after the election for a training camp in Columbus, Ohio.  Crowl, a former Marine mechanic, allegedly attended a different training camp in North Carolina, in December (Pictured: Watkins and Crowl inside the Capitol on Jan. 6)

In the 15-page indictment unsealed Wednesday, prosecutors said Watkins, Crowl and Caldwell all began plotting their incursion of the US Capitol in November 2020, and continued communications until January 19, when Caldwell was arrested.

Watkins, Crowl, and Caldwell are all reportedly affiliated with the anti-government extremist group Oath Keepers, while Watkins and Crowl are also members of the Ohio State Regular Militia.

Their frequent exchanges varied in topics from a call to action to logistics, including lodging options, coordinating calls to discuss the plan, and joining forces with other Oath Keeper chapters, prosecutors say.

In their planning, prosecutors claim, the group said that they were working under the perceived directions of Donald Trump, embracing his claims of election fraud and readying themselves for bloodshed.

According to the indictment, Watkins began contacting recruits for the plot on November 9 – six days after the election – for a ‘basic training camp’ outside of Columbus, Ohio, in early January.

Watkins, a veteran of Afghanistan turned bartender, allegedly organized the training to ensure recruits would be ‘fighting fit by inauguration’.

When asked by one recruit what to expect, Watkins allegedly wrote that if Biden became president ‘our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.

‘If Biden get the steal, none of us have a chance in my mind. We already have our neck in the noose. They just haven’t kicked the chair yet.

Then on December 29, Watkins is quoted as writing ‘Trump wants able-bodied Patriots to come [to Jan. 6 riots]. If Trump activates the Insurrection Act, I’d hate to miss it.’

Prosecutors further claim that she participated in a ‘leadership only’ conference call via an encrypted app and that Caldwell arranged for ‘at least one full bus 40+ people coming from N.C’ to be in DC for January 6.

Watkins is a 38-year-old Army veteran and bartender

She is a member of the anti-government extremist group Oath Keepers and also a member of the Ohio State Militia

Watkins (above) is a 38-year-old Army veteran and bartender. She is a member of the anti-government extremist group Oath Keepers and also a member of the Ohio State Militia

Watkins (right) is pictured with other rioters and was an organizer of militia groups

Watkins (right) is pictured with other rioters and was an organizer of militia groups

According to the indictment, Watkins began contacting recruits for the plot on November 9 – six days after the election – for a ‘basic training camp’ outside of Columbus, Ohio, in early January

According to the indictment, Watkins began contacting recruits for the plot on November 9 – six days after the election – for a ‘basic training camp’ outside of Columbus, Ohio, in early January

Who Are the Oath Keepers? 

Founded by Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers is an American far-right anti-government militia organization composed of current and former military, police, and first responders who pledge to fulfill the oath that all military and police take in order to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’

The group describes itself as non-partisan, though several organizations that monitor domestic terrorism and hate groups describe it as extremist or radical. 

Mark Pitcavage of the ADL describes the group as ‘heavily armed extremists with a conspiratorial and anti-government mindset looking for potential showdowns with the government.’ 

Crowl, a former Marine mechanic, also attended a training camp in December in North Carolina. 

It’s currently unclear how many people attended either of the two training events. Prosecutors have not yet responded to a DailyMail.com request for comment.

At around the same time as the North Carolina training camp, Caldwell allegedly invited Watkins and her partner to stay at his Virginia farm. 

In one undated exchange between Caldwell and Watkins, Caldwell wrote: ‘Don’t know what [Person One] is cooking up but I am hearing rumblings of another MAGA march 12 December. I don’t know what will happen but like you I am very worried about the future of our country . . . I believe we will have to get violent to stop this.

Caldwell added: ‘You are my kind of person and we have to fight next time.’

In previous charging documents, prosecutors have identified ‘Person One’ as ‘Stewie’ – a possible reference to Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers.

Then on December 30, Caldwell messaged Watkins again, writing: ‘If [Person One] isn’t making plans, I’ll take charge myself, and get the ball rolling.

‘I don’t know if [Person One] has even got out his call to arms, but it’s a little friggin late. This one we do on our own. This is one we are doing on our own.’

Caldwell allegedly told Watkins the leader of another group, who wasn’t named but referred to as ‘Paul’, had promised to help organize a busload of upwards of 40 people and weaponry to help their cause.

‘[Paul] is too broken down to be on the ground all day and . . . he is committed to being the quick reaction force and bringing the tools if something goes to hell,’ Caldwell is said to have written. ‘That way the boys won’t have to schlep weps on the bus. He’ll bring them in his truck the day before.’

In a December 31 post to Facebook, Caldwell reportedly wrote: ‘THIS IS OUR CALL TO ACTION, FREINDS! SEE YOU ON THE 6TH IN WASHINGTON, D.C. ALONG WITH 2 MILLION OTHER LIKE-MINDED PATRIOTS.’

Two days later, he added: ‘It begins for real Jan 5 and 6 on Washington D.C. when we mobilize in the streets. Let them try to certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets. This kettle is set to boil…’

Later, according to prosecutors, Watkins and Crowl arrived at the Capitol with communication devices, reinforced vests, camouflage helmets and goggles. They ‘forcibly’ entered the Capitol ‘with a line of individuals wearing Oath Keeper clothing, patches, and insignia,’ the indictment alleges. 

Crowl, a former Marine mechanic, also attended a training camp in December in North Carolina. It’s currently unclear how many people attended either of the two training events

Crowl, a former Marine mechanic, also attended a training camp in December in North Carolina. It’s currently unclear how many people attended either of the two training events

Watkins, Crowl, and Caldwell are all affiliated with the anti-government extremist group Oath Keepers (above)

Watkins, Crowl, and Caldwell are all affiliated with the anti-government extremist group Oath Keepers (above)

In a statement to the Washington Post Wednesday, Caldwell’s defense attorney Thomas Plochan called his client a ‘highly decorated veteran’, who ‘expects to have charges dismissed or be acquitted at trial.

Plochan continued to the Post that Caldwell is ‘not a member of the Oath Keepers and never entered the Capitol that day.’

The attorney added Wednesday’s charging documents contained no factual assertion that he ‘coordinated any activity aimed at entering the Capitol, disrupting any procedure, or taking any action against any person.’

An attorney for Crowl, who had served as a helicopter mechanic on an amphibious assault ship in the Persian Gulf, in 1990, has not yet spoken publicly on the matter.

However, his mother gave an interview to the New Yorker, in which she said his racist, right-wing views and decision to join the capitol riot made her ‘sick to my stomach.’

‘It’s stuff he heard from that psychopath Alex Jones and those echo chambers on the Internet,’ his sister Denissa Crowl added. ‘I fear him. He’s very skilled in firearms. He was an expert sharpshooter.’

Earlier this month, Watkins told the Ohio Capitol Journal: ‘I didn’t commit a crime. I didn’t destroy anything. I didn’t wreck anything.’  

Her boyfriend, Montana Siniff, told Buzzfeed the former firefighter and EMT started to believe ‘America was coming apart’ following the COVID-19 outbreak and widespread national injustice protests last year.

Watkins, according to Siniff, also began regularly watching videos on Infowars, the far-right conspiracy-driven website run by Alex Jones. It was there that she saw an interview with Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, and decided to join the group. 

Joyce Siniff, Siniff’s mother, added: ‘I think it got out of hand for her,’ describing Watkins as a ‘good and kind person’. She said she did not know her to be affiliated with any national militia groups, only a local organization who would ‘protect police’ during any unrest.

When asked by one recruit what to expect, Watkins allegedly wrote that if Biden became president ‘our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights'

When asked by one recruit what to expect, Watkins allegedly wrote that if Biden became president ‘our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights’

The mob overran the Capitol Police shortly after Trump urged them to 'fight' on his behalf

The mob overran the Capitol Police shortly after Trump urged them to ‘fight’ on his behalf

In previous filings against the trio, prosecutors detailed the group’s alleged communications over the walkie-talkie-style app Zello during the riot.

‘All members are in the tunnels under the capital,’ the FBI quoted a message sent to Caldwell during the Capitol attack. ‘Seal them in turn on gas.’

Other messages referred to the legislators as ‘traitors’ and called for ‘night hunting.’

One unknown man said: ‘You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.’

Caldwell also allegedly told an Oath Keepers leader he was ready to attack Ohio’s capital of Columbus.

‘We need to do this at the local level,’ he allegedly messaged. ‘Lets (sic) storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!’

The complaint reports one male voice is heard on an audio recording near Watkins exhorting: ‘Get it, Jess,’ and that the Capitol breach is ‘everything we f***ing trained for.’

Watkins also posted photos of herself and with Crowl on social media and captioned a photo with: ‘Me before forcing entry into the Capitol Building. #stopthesteal2 #stormthecapitol #oathkeepers #ohiomilitia.’

She later uploaded a video inside the Capitol captioned: ‘Yeah. We stormed the Capitol today. Teargassed, the whole, 9. Pushed our way into the Rotunda. Made it into the Senate even. The news is lying (even Fox) about the Historical Events we created today.’

Members of the Oath Keepers are seen among supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol during a protest on January 6

Members of the Oath Keepers are seen among supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol during a protest on January 6

Federal authorities say that Caldwell also sent Facebook messages during the attack, in a group chat named ‘Stop the Steal J6’.

‘Proud boys scuffled with cops and drove them inside to hide,’ Caldwell’s message said, according to court documents.

‘Breached the doors. One guy made it all the way to the house floor, another to Pelosi’s office. A good time.’

In the group chat, Watkins stated: ‘We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan,’ the release says.

An unknown person responded: ‘We’ll see you soon, Jess. Airborne,’ according to prosecutors.

Authorities said Watkins and Crowl returned to Ohio, then went back to Virginia to stay with Caldwell at his Berryville home for three days through January 16.

The FBI complaint said Crowl and Watkins told police in Urbana, Ohio, they drove back to Ohio after hearing the FBI was looking for them.

Watkins and Crowl handed themselves in to police in Ohio on January 18. Caldwell was apprehended the following day.

All three are charged with counts including conspiracy, conspiracy to hurt an officer, violent entry, obstruction of official business, destruction of government property, and now conspiring to obstruct Congress.

The last charges came as part of an eight-count indictment returned by a grand jury Wednesday.

The FBI is continuing to search for individuals who may have incited or promoted violence of any kind during the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol. Anyone with digital material or tips can call 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) or submit images or videos at fbi.gov/USCapitol.


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